The War

Im Westen nichts Neues is the title of Erich Maria Remarque’s famous novel, usually rendered in English as All Quiet on the Western Front. Its literal translation, however, is In the West Nothing New.

The deadly sniping, sapping, night raids, shelling and ‘probing’ that continued all along the Western Front this summer were indeed nothing new. But equally, since losing the Second Battle of Ypres in May Falkenhayn had undertaken nothing new in the way of a major attack. He and his generals concentrated on their eastern front, where they seriously hoped to batter Russia into capitulation. Through the summer the Russians were forced back from the Carpathians, by 4 August the Germans had taken Warsaw, and in September they entered Vilna, capital of Lithuania.

It was precisely this development, of course, that had enabled Kitchener to release five divisions for Ian Hamilton to launch his new offensive at Anzac and Suvla. This was, in Peter Hart’s words, ‘the last chance for the Gallipoli campaign’. By the end of August it had failed. On 16 October Hamilton was recalled to England, his military career over. On 9 January 1916 the evacuation of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force from the Gallipoli peninsula was completed without the loss of a single man. However, the remains of nearly 36,000 British and Commonwealth servicemen were left behind, including those of Lieutenant George Calderon, 1st KOSB.

At home, the increased Zeppelin raids and the human cost of the Germans’ policy of unrestricted submarine warfare solidified people’s hatred of the enemy and convinced them that the war must be won at any cost. A year ago, even George Calderon had spoken of the war being over by Christmas. I have the impression that by July 1915 the unparalleled, one might say truly 20th century brutality of total war, had wrought a deep change of attitude in both the Edwardian military and nation. Conscription was not far off and women’s role in the war grew ever greater.

After the Battle of Loos in September Sir John French was at last sacked, and replaced by Sir Douglas Haig as commander of the British Expeditionary Force.

*                    *                    *

Followers of this blog may recall that one set of papers I read three weeks ago at the Imperial War Museum belonged to Lieutenant J. Harley, a Trinity (Oxford) man ten years younger than George Calderon who was killed at the same time as him when B Company went over the top at the Third Battle of Krithia on 4 June. (See my post of 20 July.)

In a letter to his father written 1-3 June 1915, Harley reveals himself to be completely anti-war. He was appalled by this particular war and had absolutely no time for what he called the ‘death-and-glory’ ethos of the Edwardian army he served in. But he believed passionately that the ‘Prussians’, as he called them, had to be defeated. Therefore, he told his father, he must ‘do his duty’ and fight in the British Army.

Where direct moral responsibility for the outbreak of World War I is concerned, the necessity of Britain fighting it, and the heroism of those who stuck it out, my views have not changed in the past year (see particularly my post of 9 November 2014). But I have come to regard the mere existence of the British and French empires as implicated in its causation. That is not, of course, to say that I see it as the Leninist ‘Great Imperialist War’. However, I now feel that the especially devious, successful and self-righteous nature of the vast British Empire was a contributory factor.

Further, my engagement with the Gallipoli campaign in particular has convinced me that hierarchy and attitudes of class difference were more real in Edwardian society, and more pernicious in their impact on the British Army’s conduct of the war, than I had wanted to believe at the beginning of this blog. I was probably misled by the fact that George Calderon and most of his circle were free of such prejudices.

I believe that by the end of 1916 the War had in effect destroyed Edwardianism.

Next entry: 28 July 1915

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About Patrick Miles

I am a writer who specialises in Anton Chekhov and is writing a biography of George Calderon.
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